Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree?
“What are you doing?” you ask. ‘Can’t you see?” comes the impatient reply. “I’m sawing down this tree.” “You look exhausted!” you exclaim. “How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” he returns, “and I’m beat! This is hard work.” “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen the saw?” you inquire. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.” “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically.” “I’m too busy sawing!” – Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
When it comes to running and your training are you a bit like this man sawing down the tree? Perhaps you want a PB 10, 21, marathon or Ultra and in order to run that PB you know you need to train harder. So that’s exactly what you do. You hit the road, working and pushing yourself harder and harder in desperate search of your goals. But it seems that instead of getting faster you’re getting slower and instead of getting stronger you’re getting injured. Sound familiar?
We already know that rest is important when it comes to running. But I don’t think we believe it. For some reason we feel guilty when we take a rest day. Often runners will say to me, “I have a rest day scheduled on Monday, is it ok if I do some light gym work or swim?” The answer is of course, “No!”. A rest day is exactly that, a rest day. Rest and recovery are the most important ingredients in our training programs and should be considered a training session just like any other hill repeat, interval or long run training session.
There are a number of scientific training principles that lead to improved fitness and performance. Perhaps the most important of these is the principle of OVERLOAD and adaption. The principle of Overload states that in order for training adaption to take place, the intensity of the physical activity must exceed that to which the individual is already conditioned. The body must receive a progressive and systematic overloading. In other words, if we are to become stronger and faster runners which must stress our bodies beyond our current capacity.
When we stress or push our bodies beyond our current capacity we effectively damage the muscles by creating little micro-tears in them. If we do not allow these micro-tears to heal we create further damage which results in decreased performance and injury. The key to the principle of Overload is rest and recovery. Rest and recovery allows the body time to repair these small micro-tears which makes the muscles stronger and moves us past our previous capacity, which equates to faster and improved performances.
The question of course is always, “How much rest do I need?” The answer to this question is a little trickier as each one of us is unique and our bodies are all different. As a rule, regardless of your level of fitness or ability every runner should take at least one day’s full rest a week. A rest day is day in which you do no physical activity. You simply allow the body time to repair the micro-tears in the muscles. For some runners, two days rest is required. If you are just starting out, then include two rest days in your week. If you’re getting on in years then accept the fact that your body is not going to heal itself as quickly as a twenty year old and give your body more time to recover. It will thank you on that race you’ve been planning for months.
The key to rest is to listen to your body. Our bodies are amazing, complex creations and if we pay attention to what our bodies are telling us, then we’ll know when it’s time for an extra rest or two. You will not lose any fitness or forfeit any progress by taking a rest day. You only stand to gain from rest.
So, one full day’s rest a week is mandatory. The second part of rest is what is called Active Recovery. Active Recovery is when we continue to exercise but in such a way that we allow the body to continue its healing process. Active Recovery might be a swimming, bike, gym or aqua jogging session. These sessions allow you to continue building endurance or strength but without using the same muscles day in and day out. Include one or two of these sessions in your weekly training.
Lastly, be careful not to over-stress your body. Running hard sessions every day is a sure way to end up sick or injured because the body has not been allowed time to repair and heal itself. We all know how frustrating it is to be injured or sick. Avoid this frustration by alternating hard sessions with rest, active rest or easy sessions. For example, a hard track session on a Tuesday would be followed by an easy 5 or 8km run on the Wednesday, a hard hill session on a Thursday can be followed by a core workout session in the gym on the Friday and a long run on Sunday followed by a full rest day on the Monday.
Enjoy your training as your work toward your goals for 2017 and remember to take time to sharpen your saw.